Christo Reminisces About Being an Undocumented Immigrant in the US

The artist looks back on the time he wrapped Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in 1969.

Artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped exactly one US building in their entire joint career, and that was the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 1969. Mostly black-and-white renderings of the project, Museum of Contemporary Art—Chicago Packed (Project—20,000 Square Foot), were on view in the US for the first time at the Expo Chicago fair this past weekend, courtesy of Switzerland’s Galerie Gmurzynska.

The fair coincided with the opening of the city’s second architecture biennial, on view through January 7, 2018, which also features numerous instances of interdisciplinary work that moves between art and architecture. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s project pretty much embodies that kind of ferment, giving Gmurzynska’s display added resonance.

Back in ’69, the Museum of Contemporary Art resided in the former headquarters of Playboy magazine, a structure that Christo likened to a windowless shoebox. So the artists deemed their project, which encased the edifice in some 10,000 square feet of green-brown tarpaulin tied in place with 4,000 feet of rope, to be a distinct improvement. At the same time, to honor the structure’s uniqueness, they opted to encase a column that jutted above the roofline in transparent polyethylene, forming an obelisk set off from the rest.

“It looked fabulous,” said Christo, partly owing to the dark fabric’s contrast with a coating of snow on the ground outside.

The 1969 intervention had a two-part nature: The interior of the museum was also wrapped in fabric, a flourish that the artist described as a “gentle intrusion.” For the indoor installation, the artists wrapped the building’s main staircase and interior floors with the painters’ drop cloths that had been used when workmen painted the galleries.

On the one hand, the space had a reverent atmosphere. “You would take your shoes off, as if you were in a mosque,” Christo said.

On the other, at least some visitors had a more carnal experience. “One day,” he said, “a guard found a young couple making love there.”

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Chris Alexakisart, government, policy